Have a Lappie with Linda
will post Sep 6, 2016
Henry drowned his sorrows in Tootleman's Special Mix, a sour, metallic beer that tasted curiously of failure, or so he imagined. The can was bloated, misshapen, and layered with brown specks; he wondered quite seriously if one could contract botulism from a beer can. He concluded that botulism wouldn't be so bad—it would only be the latest in a series of many, many recent strokes of bad luck.
His keepers had sent him to this glorified whistle-stop to secure the deciding votes on Issue 7 and he had failed, miserably. Now the pipeline was a bust and the ignominy of his defeat was carved in stone—at least until the next election cycle.
The "Weepy Flea" was a dive in every sense of the word and then some, and it was the only place in the county where a body could at once enjoy a drink and monitor the election results, albeit from the dusty screen of a black-and-white tube television. For the better part of three hours, Henry had watched the reporting precincts trickle in with resounding "nays" and now that it was over there was no reason for him to stay. Henry leaned over his beer and let out two dry, silent sobs. It was reflex more than anything.
"What's a matter, mister?" rasped a voice. It belonged to a sweaty, baby-faced ogre of a bartender whose posture and bearing evoked a half-melted snowman.
"Issue 7. It was supposed to pass. It didn't."
The bartender furrowed his brows. "Seven, ye say?"
"I don't know nothin' about that."
"Well, I wish I'd spoken with you before the polls closed," Henry said. "I could’ve told you all about it."
"I sure don't know nothin' about that. What's yer line, mister?"
"I work for an energy company. At least I did. I might've got the sack by now."
"Lost yer job, ye said?"
"Maybe. I don't know."
"Can I get ye another one of those?"
Henry tilted the beer and swirled the dregs. "I don't suppose you've got an Amstel Light or a Heineken back there?"
"If it's beer ye want, there's Tootie's, Tootie's Special, Fanny's, Fanny's Ice, Kentucky Cream, and Market Brown."
"How about a Scotch?"
"Scotch and milk?"
The bartender poured the drink and leaned in close, as if he were about to impart some wonderful secret not privy to strangers.
"Have a lappie with Linda," he whispered, gesturing with his eyebrows toward a rusted metal door at the far end of the bar. Upon it was a wooden sign that said "Lappies with Linda, $5," and beside it hung a cast iron bell at the end of a long black chain. Before the door rested a tiny wooden desk of the variety you might have found in an elementary school a half-century ago. The writing surface and seatback were darkly, unevenly stained, etched with the hieroglyphics of decades-old graffiti. Henry sipped his scotch and took a long look.
"Go fer it," said the bartender. "Ring the bell. She'll make ye feel better." He gnawed at an old piece of gum. "Have a looksie, at least."
"I'm tired," said Henry, "and I've had a rough day."
"But, why, that's exactly what Linda's lappies are fer!" bellowed the bartender, eyes gleaming.
"I'll think about it," said Henry. He had no choice but to think about it. He stared absentmindedly at the paraphernalia above the bar. There was a stuffed and mounted dog's head—a proud-looking Boxer—and it struck Henry that the average person would find it distasteful, though it was possible the taxidermist only intended to pay tribute to a beloved animal.
Henry removed his sport coat and sat on it, softening the sharper cracks and crinkles in the plastic lining of the barstool. He noticed the black shiny stripe of a fresh grease stain across his khakis and sighed. Nothing to be done. Henry rocked his lips and body away and toward and away and toward the glass of scotch like he was the incredible drinking bird from fifth-grade science class. He was in no condition to drive, even on a road as off the beaten path as Route 11. Yes, yes, he would stay.
It occurred to Henry that life was a series of decisions, and not even complex ones; a series of "yesses" or "noes" that forked off into infinity, and we were all poking around with them willy-nilly, like the senseless motions of the incredible drinking bird. Henry had always pecked his nose at whatever was in front of it—at business school, then law school, then an entry-level job at StimFuel, and now this political opportunity in Gerrity County. He'd never wanted to do any of those things; they simply presented themselves amid the rest of the feed, and he'd happened to bring his beak down upon them when the timing was right. Similarly, the residents of this state had definitively pecked their noses "No" on Issue 7, and that must have been chance—the language on the ballot was so abstruse that none could have really known what they were voting for either way. Ethics no longer exist, he surmised, only accident.
Officially surrendering his will to chance seemed to Henry a healthy development; he had tortured himself for too long about matters that were fundamentally beyond his control. And then there was the matter of "Linda." Who was she? What, exactly, was a "lappie?" Was it simply a splintery lap-dance from a sloppy, second-run truck stop crone? Or was it something uncommon and mystical and ecstatic? He had five dollars. For five dollars he could open that door and reveal either the lady or the tiger, as it were.
On the television, Henry saw that StimFuel's senate candidate had also fallen victim to the vagaries of Mistress Fate. The bosses would be on rampage tomorrow, and though there was no one to blame, cruel and irreversible decisions would be made. He threw his head back and drained his glass. The scotch burned in his throat, a good burn. Perhaps success and failure are interchangeable; perhaps they are as versatile as the mysteries of pleasure and pain. All of it bald sensation, open to any interpretation. Wrapping his fingers around a five-dollar bill, he advanced to the rusted door. The bartender glowed with the pride of a dirty uncle.
Henry tugged at the bell and it clanged dully, like a foot stamping on a sewer grate. "No ethics, only accident," he whispered. As he sat at the child's desk, Henry's knees and elbows met uncomfortably in mutual confinement. Behind the door, he heard a faint and gentle stirring; the buckling of a belt, the snapping of buttons, the dragging of tired limbs. Closing his eyes, he leaned back his head and exposed a clean-shaven throat, fishbelly white. In that moment, he thought perhaps it wouldn't matter if the next sensation were the caress of a beautiful woman or the shearing shriek of a guillotine blade. He expected the worst, he expected the best, and no matter what, tomorrow morning it would be as meaningless and open-ended as a half-remembered dream.
© 2016 Sean Gill